Why Does Forbes Measure Women's Influence, Not Wealth?

Forbes magazine loves to track the wealthy. It has lists dedicated to billionaires, top earning CEOs, and top-earning dead celebrities. So why, when it comes to the new list about women, have editors decided to use the vague metric "influence?"

The new Forbes list is actually called "World's Most Powerful Women," but it puts the cards on the table in the first two paragraphs:

Forbes' Power Women list isn't about celebrity or popularity; it's about influence. Queen Rania of Jordan (No. 75), for instance, is perhaps the most listened-to woman in the Middle East; her Twitter feed has 600,000 followers.

In assembling the list, Forbes looked for women who run countries, big companies or influential nonprofits. Their rankings are a combination of two scores: visibility—by press mentions—and the size of the organization or country these women lead.


Interesting. In almost every other list, power is measured in dollars and cents. Yet, when it comes to women, the financial component is glossed over entirely.

The women selected are certainly interesting - Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, heads the list for the fourth consecutive year, and Queen Raina of Jordan (above) was given special acknowledgment for her social media savvy. Other high profile women like Sonia Sotomayor and Michelle Obama are also given nods on the list. And certainly, there are things in this world more important than someone's financial status. But Forbes exists to disclose numbers, so the omission nagged at me the entire article.

Joan Smith, writing for the Guardian's Comment is Free, argues that the list still places money as the top indicator of success:

Indeed, what's striking about the Forbes top ten is its reverence for money. Ten women holding the title of prime minister, chancellor or president make it into the top 100, but Merkel is the sole politician in the top ten. The list has been published only for the last six years, so it's impossible to know what it would have looked like 25 years ago, but it's hard to imagine Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi being overlooked in favour of Irene Rosenfeld, chief executive of Kraft Foods. I'm sure Rosenfeld is a big player in the business world, but is she really the sixth most powerful woman in the world? More influential, better-known and more of a role model than J K Rowling? [...]

At first sight, the Forbes list looks like bad news for women who aspire to other forms of power: cultural, social and political. But what it really tells us isn't about powerful women but how power itself is perceived in a country where commerce trumps everything else. Despite the recession, and whether you're male or female, the US remains a country where money talks louder than anything else.


But I disagree. What is striking to me about the list is how the amount of wealth or assets controlled was not counted with the women on the list - and that reveals more about the wage and wealth gaps between men and women than Forbes may care to admit.

What would it look like if the headlines about the Forbes list blared something like "World's Wealthiest Women is Six Billion Dollars Short of Last Ranked Wealthiest Man?" instead of focusing on who was ranked?


And I don't think my theory is too far off. Take another feature on the Forbes site, "The Top Earning Jobs for Women." I started browsing the slide show, and noticed and interesting little statistic bundled in with the standard job facts: percentage of men's earnings.


As explained in the article:

An unlikely No. 1 emerged. Much to our surprise, pharmacy topped the list, where women pharmacists earn a median wage of $1,647 per week or about $86,000 a year. Women currently account for slightly less than half of all pharmacists in the U.S. and earn about 85% as much as their male colleagues. It's a much smaller pay gap than that of medical doctors, however, where women make 59% as much as men. And pharmacy requires less education.



And female executives illustrate the classic percentage of the wage gap:


The only job where women were compensated on par with men is Speech-language Pathologists.

So it should come as no surprise that the wage gap costs women anywhere from $700,000 to $2 million over the course of their working life.


So how do we start fighting the wage gap? Perhaps we can begin by asking Forbes and other publications marketing sections aimed at women in the workplace to write articles about this issue, and to stop filling their sections with ladymag knockoff articles like these:


Lists [Forbes]
The World's Billionaires [Forbes]
Top Earning CEO's [Forbes]
Top-Earning Dead Celebrities [Forbes]
World's Most Powerful Women [Forbes]
What Forbes reveals about women and power [Guardian]
Top-Paying Jobs For Women [Forbes]
Fighting the Wage Gap [Women Work]

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